Twelve Days of X-Mas

Ah, the holiday season in Happy Valley. It used to be a time for excitement to build as the Penn State football program prepared for a bowl game. And if the Nittany Lions’ recent success on the recruiting trail is any indication, that may well be the case again next season.

For the time being, however, Joe Paterno’s outfit finds itself out of the bowl picture for the fourth time in the past five years. Rather than sit around and watch the rest of the nation revel in postseason cheer, we thought this would be the perfect time to break down the Penn State football team, position by position, to give Nittany Lion fans a little something to sink their teeth into.

With a holiday theme, of course. We’re calling it the 12 days of Christmas. We’ll tackle one position per day, and deliver them every afternoon through the end of bowl season.


MAKING A LIST, CHECKING IT TWICE: It was another brutal season for a program that has struggled in this department in all but one of the last five years. The Lions’ 3.9-yards-per carry average was bolstered by 352 yards in the season-opening whipping of Akron. Take that effort out of the mix, and the clip drops to 3.3 yards per tote.

State was held under 100 yards six times and had a combined 39 yards in back-to-back losses to Minnesota and Purdue.

We’ll get around to the real culprits -- the offensive linemen -- later. For now, let’s look at the running backs.

Starter Tony Hunt looked like a world-beater early on, cranking out a total of 262 yards and four scores in wins over Akron and USF. But as the competition improved, his production went down. The sophomore showed good speed and terrific power. But his nose for the pile hurt against good teams. So did his penchant to fumble (he lost two).

Classmate Austin Scott’s minor off-the-field indiscretions bothered the coaching staff enough that he spent much of the early part of the season on the bench. Another sophomore, Rodney Kinlaw, has been too fragile and too ham-handed to contribute consistently.

The fullbacks were a major disappointment. Fifth-year senior Paul Jefferson was full of rust after a year spent redshirting. And no capable backup emerged.

WHO WAS NAUGHTY: Scott spent the first few games in Paterno’s doghouse and never caught his stride after that.

WHO WAS NICE: Hunt entered the season as an afterthought in the minds of most observers, but made a statement by ripping off a 77-yard run on his first carry. Though he didn’t quite maintain that gaudy yards-per-carry average, he did finish the season as the team leader in rushing yardage and passes caught. He was the first Lions to pull of that double since Blair Thomas in 1987.

UNDER THE TREE: Tailback is not an area of emphasis for the Lions in the recruiting battles this year. One player who could help is 5-foot-10, 185-pound Lydell Sargeant from Cabrillo High in Lompoc, Calif., who committed to PSU in November.

NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION: We’re not sure you can teach speed, but this group can use a few lessons in that area. Redshirting either Hunt or Scott this season -- provided neither transfers -- might be a good idea, too. Matt Hahn and Dan Lawlor appear to have bright futures at fullback. That’s if they get a chance to contribute significantly, no sure thing as the Lions continue to move away from their traditional “I” formation offense.


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